GERMANY

COVID numbers soar causing labour shortage.

Is Germany about to go in lockdown again?

With infections rising, there is already a shortage of staff in many areas of public service. This is taking a toll on postal services, public transport, air traffic, and even emergency services.

As more people fall ill with COVID this summer, emergency and rescue services are suffering from a staff shortage

Ambulance driver Tobias Thiele works in the western Rhine-Main region near Germany’s largest airport, Frankfurt. He says that during his recent night shift, one out of every two calls was for a COVID emergency. “For months we’ve been warning about the collapse in emergency rescue services, and now it’s here,” Thiele says.

Germany prides itself on the fact that help is at hand here within the shortest possible time — whether for a heart attack, stroke, accident, or fire. But COVID infection numbers are also on the rise among emergency room and rescue staff.

Add to it a high rate of sick leave among emergency rescue workers in Germany and the vacation season and the country sector is now facing a serious staff crunch. Across Germany, “ambulances could not be manned every night because of a lack of personnel,” says paramedic Thiele.

That’s also because, after each deployment, an ambulance must be cleaned and disinfected, which takes up valuable time and labour. Only after this intensive cleaning can the paramedics go out again.

After almost two and a half years of fighting the pandemic, rescue workers are exhausted.

Most recently, in Berlin, the fire department issued a warning that at times there isn’t a single ambulance available due to staff shortages as more and more rescue workers call in sick. The Berlin Fire Department says there have been around 170 days on which only one ambulance was available for the whole of Berlin, if at all.

This week, hospitals have been ringing alarm bells. The rising number of COVID infections is leading to staff shortages among hospitals and medical professionals around the country, Gerald Gaß, CEO of the German Hospital Federation (DKG), told the media network RND.

All walks of life in Germany are starting to feel the impact of the rising numbers of COVID infections. They are exacerbating labour shortage in the construction and hospitality industry. And adding to the chaos at Germany’s airports during the summer holiday season.

COVID restrictions once again?

A “cascade of COVID-related events” is what pandemic modeller and complexity researcher Dirk Brockmann of Berlin’s Humboldt University predicted last winter when the first wave of infections with the Omicron variant began.

Now, most COVID protection measures have been scrapped and face masks are no longer mandatory in public places, apart from public transport.

“The infection rates are exploding,” Brockmann told DW, although many of them no longer even appear in the statistics. “The number of unreported cases is high,” he said because many COVID sufferers no longer bother to get a PCR test and simply stay at home until they feel better. So Germany is flying blind.

This week, the government also abolished the free COVID rapid tests. This is expected to discourage even more people from getting tested.

Physics Professor Brockmann says that in his view, there is already “a lot of virus floating around in the room.” So infection numbers continue to rise, and along with them COVID hospital admissions.

Since June 30, 2022, COVID tests in Germany, with a few exceptions, are no longer free of charge

The basis for new restrictive measures would be a new infection protection law. But the neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP), the smallest member of Germany’s coalition government, is opposed to legislation restricting personal freedoms.

How effective are COVID restrictions?

Last week, a much-awaited assessment by a panel of experts — scientists specialized in medicine, law, ethics, economy, and public administration — gave their assessment of the COVID restrictions that had been imposed over the past two and a half years.

The COVID expert panel presented its much-awaited report on the government’s measures

Their results were a mixed bag and provided no clear indication for the way forward: They confirmed that medical masks (FFP2/N95) if worn properly are an especially effective measure to limit the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

“Since the transmission of the coronavirus is incomparably stronger indoors than outdoors, a mask requirement should be limited to indoor areas and places with a higher risk of infection,” the panel’s report said.

The commission found that lockdowns make sense only at the very beginning of an outbreak. “When only a few people are infected, lockdown measures have a much stronger effect. The longer a lockdown lasts, fewer people will be willing to comply with restrictions and this will ‘reduce the effectiveness.’”

For months, Germany limited access to shops and restaurants to people who had been fully vaccinated or had recently recovered from a COVID infection. According to the expert commission, these so-called 2G/3G rules were effective in the first weeks after vaccination or recovery.

School closures have been a particularly controversial measure over the past two years. The expert panel does not have enough data to allow a final assessment of their effectiveness “despite biological plausibility and numerous studies.” The panel mentioned the need for more studies on the detrimental effect of school closures and other shutdowns on mental health, suggesting measures to mitigate the long-term negative effect.

How COVID impacted children’s lives, mental health and education has been a topic of heated debate

The experts urged the development of a comprehensive public health system, bundling data, and developing a strategy for nationwide protective measures that would be applicable in every epidemic situation.

The panel’s report did not give any clear indication of which restrictions should be imposed to prevent the pandemic from flaring up dramatically again in the fall.

The government has approved a draft from the Ministry of Health for new regulations. This is to be the basis for further vaccinations, the compilation of more accurate data and to ensure increased protection of risk groups in care facilities.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach had already announced these aspects in a seven-point plan for the fall. However, the draft does not yet include regulations on possible further-reaching everyday restrictions in the Infection Protection Act. These are to be considered in the further parliamentary procedure.

This article was originally written in German and has been modified and republished, in order to reflect news developments.

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Sir Ron Harrison

Sir Ron Harrison

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What is life without a little controversy in it? Quite boring and sterile would be my answer.